Religious Interlopers

To the editors:

I heartily applaud the residents of Pullman in their efforts to keep Reverend James Meeks from building a super-sized Salem Baptist Church in their neighborhood [Neighborhood News, June 8].

Their worries–traffic, noise, illegal parking–are all valid, and are all problems in neighborhoods where these “commuter churches” are located.

For those of your mostly north-side readers who walk to church on Sunday and don’t know what a commuter church is, it’s a church, usually in the inner city on the south and west sides, whose parishioners don’t live anywhere near the church, if they ever did. Thus, they come in from outlying areas in cars. Thousands of cars.

The more parking lots these churches provide, the more people drive in. They double-park. They park in front of “no parking” zones, handicapped zones, permit parking areas, private driveways, fire hydrants. They park on any level surface that will support their car’s weight, if it means that they can get to church late and bolt for the door as soon as the benediction is over. They don’t feel that they should be ticketed for these parking violations because they’re “going to church.” If the church has guards, these violations always seem to happen “when their backs are turned.”

In too many cases, police nonemergency dispatchers are happy to go along with this insanity. “You say it’s parked in front of your garage where? But that’s near —— Church! And it’s a Sunday! But you say they’re blocking you in? Um, well, OK, I’ll send a-a car.” Our previous police commander went even further. He told our community organization flat out that his officers would not ticket people parked illegally on Sunday anywhere in his district. (Fortunately, our new commander is much more reasonable in this regard.)

And when these parishioners do leave church, it’s the Sunday rush hour. If you live across the street from a large church parking lot, as I do, you time your comings and goings around theirs. Between 9:30 and 11 AM, 1:30 and 3 PM, and 10 and 11 PM on Sunday, I don’t even try to get in and out of my garage. They think nothing of revving their engines, blowing their horns, and screaming at each other at the top of their lungs during that 10 PM hour, when residents here are trying to get to sleep.

I’ve had to put up with this crap for 28 of the 45 years I have lived in my south-side neighborhood, and the only reason the illegal-church-parking situation has gotten better is because I and my neighbors have spent an inordinate amount of time talking our heads off to the offending church (to them we’re pests and whiners, even though our homes were here before the church), to the alderman, to our CAPS officers, to the police commander, and ultimately, to the mayor at his neighborhood budget hearings. My local CAPS officers even have a videotape I shot of this kind of illegal parking. Excuse my naivete, but should a church, any church, have to be publicly embarrassed into doing the right thing?

It seems to me that the only thing people are learning in some of these commuter churches is how to drop money in the collection plate. Obeying the parking laws, even on Sunday? Consideration for other people and their rights? Don’t make me laugh. I pick up as much litter from the streets on any given Monday morning after “services” as I do the other six days of the week combined.

And this sort of thing extends beyond Sunday. Weddings, funerals, christenings, graduation ceremonies, and church bazaars can be any day of the week, so we never know when our quiet streets will be inundated with cars, litter, and noise and our driveways blocked. And the church is only too happy to keep us residents uninformed as to when these events will be.

By the way, Reverend, when did your present location in Roseland, where you worked so hard to get all the liquor stores closed, suddenly get to be chopped liver?

Kenneth Smith

W. 46th St.